Is life the worst? And, if it is, how often? Are we talking about all the fucking time? Or just during the summer? Who knows... Let's explore...
One of the things that ofttimes gets lost in my rabbit hole-ian brain is the fact that most of the time life is pretty fucking awesome. I'm one of those sad sort that seems to relish the opportunity to dwell on the negative minutiae of anything, however trivial. It's easier, somehow, for my (Aspergian) brain to dwell on the one goddamn thing that drives me fucking mad, as opposed to, say, the ninety-nine other things that are perfectly fine. After investing innumerable amounts of time, energy and focus into something, I can completely convince myself, and usually others, if for no other reason, as is often the case, than to just shut me the fuck up, that whatever thing I'm destined to destroy, like so many innocent planets in the Star Wars galaxy, is simply the most vile thing ever to be encountered and must be blown to smithereens at once. It must cease to exist, fully and forever, and never be discussed in open forum so as to reawaken the loathsome beast inside me and unleash its fury, once again, upon its unsuspecting, and mostly uncaring, victims. My poor girlfriend has undoubtedly heard all of my rants on numerous occasions, and whether she agrees with me or not, it's become her job to placate me regardless lest she wants the longform version (again) which usually includes trips to the computer, passages read from books, CD listens, etc. to prove my (by now, quite insane) point of view. You can imagine, no doubt, how this can ruin even some of the best things in my life.
Let me give you an example so you can more fully be immersed in this experience. I don't want people thinking that this is mostly related to grand political, artistic or ideological stands. It's not. Here's a real-life example that happened just last week.
My wonderful, absurdly intelligent, handsome, charming, caring and bespectacled brother recently came out to Portland, Oregon for a visit. It was his third voyage in the past year, his second with his lovely girlfriend. Obviously preferring the mild coastal climate and the delicious salmon, as many do, he relishes his trips to the Pacific Northwest. And we are more than excited to host him, although he should probably just fucking move here for fuck's sake, but that's for another time. One of the highlights of an excursion to Portland, a city bereft of fun, touristy-type things to do, the type of things found in places like New York City, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, etc., is a visit to Powell's Books. Now, normally, I would not venture a trip there. Powell's is one of those nightmarish, paralyzing kind of places for a person with Asperger's. It's unimaginably large for a bookstore, crowded to the hilt with a large quantity of people of the genre I desperately try to avoid (read: the most prevalent inhabitant of Portland, the "Hipster" or "anti-Hipster," or whatever the fuck they call themselves nowadays, I can't keep up) and I don't have the layout memorized so I wander aimlessly and can never fucking find anything until I get so pissed off by the people shopping, or just fucking standing around hanging out and generally being in the way, and by the fact that the organization of the books isn't laid out in any goddamn way that makes sense to me, that I just fucking leave and swear to never return. So, that's where we were and I was actually having a pleasant time since I was just there to be there and not actually trying to find/buy anything. My brother and his girlfriend, the "Kids" as I call them (they're so young still, at twenty-one and nineteen, respectively), were having fun being overwhelmed by the scene I just described, but in the way a normal person might drink it in and appreciate its uniqueness as a singular bookstore experience.
We were just about to bid "adieu" to Powell's, with the Kids making a final perusal of the Powell's-branded merchandise for a take home memento, when I, as I am wont to do, started looking over the clearance items and stumbled upon THIS
. Now, for those who aren't aware, "Breakfast of Champions" or "Goodbye Blue Monday" is more than likely my favorite novel ever. I'm currently on my third copy, as I've worn out one altogether, with the pages falling out and shit, the second is currently beginning a life in a similar state, but not quite unreadable as of yet, and the third, still of the used variety, is wrapped in paper awaiting its turn. In all of the years I've spent moving around this great country of ours, I've carried with me only a small handful of items, ever constant and essential. They include:
- My gym bag from the 4th grade basketball team, inscribed with: "Horicon Booster Club" and below that "Brad Wik," on the side pocket. I always filled this with the clothes I deemed irreplaceable, of which I only retain one item: my red Adidas gym shorts, with three black stripes down each side, Adidas-style, which I've had since the 7th grade. I'm a big fan of pockets in shorts, which these have, and of shorts that reside somewhere between the short shorts of the 1970's and what have become of athletic shorts in recent times (read: too long and baggy). These shorts are of perfect construction and length, and I'll probably die with these shorts; to say nothing of the gym bag, which I'll never part with, unless it came to a death-match type situation with the next item...
- My Martin D-15 acoustic guitar. It's constructed of solid mahogany, from the neck to the sides to the top and back. It's beautiful to look at and has such a distinct sound as compared to most acoustic guitars; the majority of which are constructed with spruce top and rosewood sides. It is my most prized earthly possession and I would risk death, forging forth into a fiery apartment, at the expense of possible deformation, to save my guitar's life. Only my guitar, girlfriend and cat are worthy of such a distinction.
- The nine CD's listed HERE
- Lastly, and perhaps most profoundly, the following seven books:
1. "Breakfast of Champions" or "Goodbye Blue Monday" by Kurt Vonnegut
2. "Franny and Zooey" by J.D. Salinger
3. "Leaves of Grass" by Walt Whitman
4. "Cash" by Johnny Cash
5. "Bound for Glory (book)" by Woody Guthrie
6. "Chronicles Volume One" by Bob Dylan
7. "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac
So, of the nineteen items (counting the shorts, which I'm currently wearing, coincidentally, not "ironically" Alanis. Fucking learn the difference) I carried with me across the United States of America and back, and then back again, as it were, "Breakfast of Champions" was one of my most beloved. The only book I own that could possibly rival "Breakfast of Champions" in reads is "Weirdos from Another Planet!" the Calvin and Hobbes collection. But even that would be a stretch, to say the least. So, to sum up this point, I would say that I was ecstatic to find a coffee mug with the "Breakfast of Champions" logo on it. I was so excited that even from this store which exemplified the very existence of the "Hipster" culture, I was decidedly forced to buy this coffee mug and be happy about it. And I was, for a while, at least...
I was so happy I decided, with my girlfriend as a guide, of course, to go look for some additional books to buy. Normally, I would never subject myself to such torture, which I've previously described fully, but I felt so inspired by my Kurt Vonnegut mug that I sallied forth with a hitherto unknown sense of bravery in regards to Powell's. I found a used copy of "As I Lay Dying" that I wished to own as well. As we made our way back to the registers, I felt a twinge of what I call "Hipster-guilt," which is, of course, the Catholic reaction to doing anything which might be described as "Hipster-shit." Buying a Vonnegut-inspired coffee mug and a used copy of "As I Lay Dying," complete with analysis and commentary, could most definitely be defined as "Hipster-shit." But, then again, there's the other side of me that reacts violently to the fact that hipsters seem to claim things I love, whether ironically or not. So, the anti-Hipster part of me fires up and wants to do things doubly as a result of how those cocksuckers tray and make me feel bad about enjoying some piece of art. How dare those pieces of shit make me feel bad about myself. I'm the one they should bow to, those cunts. I'm the one they don't even know they're stealing from mercilessly. They should be defined by me, not the other way around... Needless to say, I bought the fucking mug. Fuck those Hipsters...
I'm sure by this point you're wondering "what's the point of all this?" "What does this have to do with you dwelling on the minutiae of things?" Well, goddammit, you needn't be so impatient, you fuckers. I'm getting there. Not every truth can be found in less than a thousand words.
I excitedly brought the mug home, proud of my find. As you would with any store bought item related to food consumption, I washed the mug to ready it for the following morn. The next morning I awoke, excited yet tentative, as I had to push my Green Bay Packers mugs to the side to enjoy my morning cup of Joe in this new vessel I had obtained. It's hard for me to make even the most simple of changes, like a different coffee mug, in my life. It's stupid and I realize it's stupid, but that doesn't make it any easier. But I wanted this. I wanted to make this new mug work. I poured in the milk, as anyone who drinks coffee regularly knows, adding the milk before the coffee ensures that it is mixed thoroughly without dirtying up a spoon. As I was pouring in the milk I saw it. The small bump that would henceforth haunt my coffee drinking days. It was merely a tiny defect in the production process, no larger than a grain of sand but it was there. And, from the moment I knew it was there, I couldn't neglect its presence. I'm right-handed and when I'm holding the mug in the drinking position the bump is facing towards me on the inside the cup. Now, my lip cannot feel it while drinking that delicious, warm elixir. It doesn't actually affect my morning caffeine experience, but I know it's there and that's enough for me. It sometimes has ruined my morning. It doesn't actually affect anything, but it does. And, since I love the mug's design so much, I'm tempted to order another one online. I know that the tiny imperfection will forever bother me, so I may have to pony up for a second. The original mug was perfect in every way except it had an extremely minor imperfection that I know I will probably never move past. I now might have to pay full price, plus the clearance price, for a mug (well, two mugs) because I can't accept a tiny imperfection, which didn't actually change or mean anything, and just go about my business. A perfectly good mug was ruined by my affixing on that which was uneventful and I could not change. Nonetheless, I'll dream of the day when I stop being so cheap and just order the damn second mug; this one unmarred and beholden of my lips to drink from...
All of this to say that sometimes life is the worst. But most of the time it is not. And the greatest example of this is Music. As fucked up as life is on a day to day basis, Music is the one thing that can alleviate the pain enough for me to continue on, strong and full of zest, or with something close to a full dose of zest. Well, to be honest, quite often the bare minimum of zest, but zest nonetheless. Now, to be sure, there is a large part of me pissed off beyond what anyone could possibly classify as "normal" about the current state of my most beloved Music, whether that be mainstream Rock N' Roll, alternative Rock, indie Rock, folk Rock, pop Rock, straight up Folk, country-tinged Folk, alt Country, Americana, singer-songwriter, or any of the other bullshit ways people now describe music that used to fit into three categories: Rock, Pop, Independent. My anger is expounded upon and illustrated thoroughly HERE
. It's easy to take stock, as I did, of the newer wave of artists and subsequently tear them apart. If I were at least ten years older than I am, it would make perfect sense for me to begrudge these youngsters and their lack of talent and dearth of quality material. It would be much more understandable for me to hate them and for them, in turn, to discount my opinion citing the age gap and how I "just don't get it." But, unfortunately, I am in the same age range of these little pissants. I am not quite old enough yet to tell these same Hipster artists/fucks to "Get off my lawn!"
Given this pathetic state of the thing I love so dearly, Music, it would be easy to go one of three ways:
1. To withdraw into my own little world, more so than I already do, and fill my ears with nothing but Springsteen, Dylan, Stones, Petty, Joel, etc. and pretend people stopped making music many years ago and that is all which has survived and we should cherish it as such. I would not waste any more time or energy on new music, hell, I wouldn't even acknowledge it still exists as an art form.
2. To slowly start to distance myself from the thing I loved for so long. To fill my days watching baseball and football and basketball. To give up hope completely that things will ever turn around for Music and move on with my life, ingesting Music only passively as I go about my sad, remaining days, full of remembrances to a love that once was, but shall never be again.
3. Hunting down every copy of every album ever made by Mumford and Sons, the Lumineers, the Head and the Heart, Fun., Twenty-One Pilots, Grouplove, the list goes on... and destroying them, thoroughly and cathartically, to rid the world of them. Next would be finding every article, blog, twitter, email, text, interview, podcast, etc. and deleting or destroying those as well. Only the vague memories of them would be left, as that would be un-erasable physically, but those would die off with this generation, a maximum of 80 or so years from now, removing them from history completely.
Number three sounds like too much work, so options one or two are the more likely of the bunch. Instead, I choose option four (or option Favre as I call it):
4. To delve deeper into the wonderful history of Music and uncover more of the countless bands and albums I still haven't yet found. One lifetime isn't enough to enjoy it all, so I should relish what I have discovered and cherish the memories it's given me. In fact, right now, which isn't "right now" for you in the same sense as it is to me, I should give thanks to a few records that pulled me through some tough times. Here's the actual proof that life isn't always the worst. Just sometimes...
Pavement - Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain
This was a record that, like most, found me in High School. Obviously, not when it initially was released but roughly ten years later. There was something about it that I didn't quite understand but had always intrigued me. It wasn't like the other nine CD's listed HERE
. There was a sadness, a desperation, a longing which existed as a part and apart from the music. It created an aura that didn't actually exist at any time other than when the record was playing. And I would come to need it. A couple years out of High School, I moved to New York City. I had long since left the comforts of Horicon, WI and was coming off stints in San Francisco and Seattle. I was truly a traveling troubadour, complete with acoustic guitar and harmonica rack accessories. I was hopelessly obsessed with becoming a folk singer, a very ill-conceived master plan, I must admit. Armed with troves of Carter Family and Woody Guthrie tunes, plus dozens of my own creations, I was going to singlehandedly reanimate 1962 in the Village. I truly believed that. Seriously. Me and about a thousand other girls and boys, who would all soon be devastatingly disappointed. If you care, I go into more detail on this subject, HERE
After having this dream so thoroughly destroyed, I briefly gave up music altogether. After all, I didn't know how to write non-Folk lyrics or music. I had spent years learning the nuance and intricacies of that genre and was unprepared to start over. For six months, I didn't even touch a guitar. I didn't sing, I didn't write; I had no inclination to continue forth on my path in music. And that wasn't easy at all for me to accept. I felt so lost and confused. I had nothing else to fall back on. I skipped college to pursue life as a folk-singer. I left my family and friends for this; for nothing. But, in spite of giving up on playing music, I never stopped listening to music. I couldn't. All those mornings I sat slumped on the "L" train heading to work, aimless in life, ashamed of my failure, I would put on my headphones and play "Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain." There was something so comforting in escaping into the worlds created by "Elevate Me Later," "Cut Your Hair," "Gold Soundz," "Range Life" or, the coup d'etat, "Fillmore Jive" and how it fucking wrecks me every time with those unbelievably beautifully fucked-up guitar solos. I can't tell you how many times, in a moment of weakness, I reminded myself "Hey, you gotta pay your dues before you pay the rent." It became a sort of mantra during the harder times to remind myself that nothing comes easy or without sacrifice. And it most certainly does not. Or, at least not for me...
Ryan Adams - Rock N Roll
So, I'm well aware of the shit this record takes, especially in lieu of the rest of the Ryan Adams catalogue. Trust me, I've seen plenty of reviews like THIS
over the years. Almost all of my friends have laughed at me after hearing that I actually like
this record. Hell, you might even be laughing right now but I'm serious. "Rock N Roll" was the first Ryan Adams record I bought. Yes, I had heard "New York, New York" but was relatively unimpressed. It was a good song but kind of fucked me off, though I couldn't describe why. "Rock N Roll" put off the same vibe as the "Big Balls" version of AC/DC did: we're here to fucking rock and have some fucking fun, so fuck you if you don't like it. It's a vibe similarly displayed on Ryan & the Cardinals' "III/IV" album. I mean, come on, who doesn't love THIS SHIT
! Anyways, this was one of the first "Independent" albums I ever bought. Ryan's flippant attitude toward standardized songwriting, recording, singles, etc. was so goddamn exciting. He was, and wasn't, complying to the rules of being a signed, commercial artist. "Rock N Roll" was, along with Modest Mouse's "The Lonesome Crowded West," my first glimpse into a world where the artists got to do whatever the fuck they wanted and the labels supported them, so long as there was money to be made. It was the conception of the idea, in my feeble teenage brain, that in creating music you can
do whatever the fuck you want as long as it was good and you could sell it. It was a dangerous thought and would shape my views on the creation of music going forward.
This may sound idiotic, but lyrically, this album taught me a lot. I don't dwell too much on the specifics, although some of the phrases spoke to me immensely, both then and now. I remember listening to this album with my mother on a getting-ready-for-school shopping trip when I was sixteen, and she couldn't help but comment upon hearing the line "It's all a bunch of shit, and there's nothing to do around here. It's totally fucked up. I'm totally fucked up. Wish you were here..." that this album sounds a lot like me. I took immense pride in that as I flipped through the liner notes and played it cool, trying not to express the excitement I felt in being, even vaguely, lumped in with a one Mr. David Ryan Adams. I realize that the lyrics on this record aren't his finest, but I learned that, even if you're taking a piss, being honest and true to yourself was the only way to go in regards to the words you decide to put forth unto the world to represent you. It was "Rock N Roll" that convinced me that anything I do must be one hundred percent honest and true to form, whatever that form may be, regardless of the audience, critics, etc. Art must be truthful, even in its untruthfulness, as this record showed, for it to truly resonate with anyone. The audiences are much smarter than artists sometimes imagine them to be, and they deserve our truest and best efforts. They know the difference and although the music-consuming public isn't on its game right now, it'll find its way back home. It always does. And good music will be waiting, grateful of its return...
Sun Kil Moon - Ghosts of the Great Highway
For years, I kept a second acoustic guitar, tuned to the open tuning featured on "Glenn Tipton," around just so I could play that song. It sounds silly to have a second guitar at the ready for one fucking song, but that's how much I loved that song and this album. This record carried me through two separate, yet equally difficult, transitional times in my life: my leaving home and my first real breakup. Back towards the tail end of when Sony Walkman CD players were the preferred way to listen to music on the go, this was one of the two CD's (the Arcade Fire's "Funeral" being the other) I carried with me at all times when I would go for my nightly walk down E. Johnson St. in Madison, WI. I would walk down E. Johnson til I hit Tenney Park, cut through the park and then head back up Sherman to Gorham and back home. Or, equally as often, I would reverse that trip so I could walk along Lake Mendota on the way down to the park. It was something I did nearly every single night during the year I lived on E. Johnson St. Sometimes I would walk it almost obligatorily and be home within an hour. Other times, I might find myself wandering for hours, without a particular destination, unable to return to the apartment shared with three other guys, including two other former Horicon-ites. The insomnia, which I still sometimes suffer from, started here. There were nights I wouldn't return home until almost dawn. I didn't, and still don't, know what causes this but it still happens; although, less frequently, thank God, as it's much harder for me to make it to work the next day after two hours of sleep than it used to be. I spent many a night on the verge on anxiety attacks only to be soothed by Mark Kozelek's deep, sexy voice and his wondrous compositions. Mark is also the reason I moved to San Francisco, but that's a story for another day...
The second life-changing event I was able to successfully endure with the help of "Ghosts of the Great Highway" was my first real-life breakup. Not a bullshit High School or Middle School breakup, but the real deal. A full-on, we both said "I love you" as an adult, kind of deal. Being fair to history, this was never a relationship that stood much of an honest chance at working out long-term, but it was exactly the kind of thing that two lonely, depressed, horny adult-kids needed. I had no clue to the extent of which she was lonely and depressed, to say nothing of horny, which I would find out, in spectacular fashion no less, later on. Which brings me back to this album, "Glenn Tipton" in particular. The final verse of this song could have been written for me and *****. It's tragic and damning and not particularly kind to either character, but that's often how life goes; at least, it was in our case. I too "found her letters that said so many things that really hurt me bad." I can never un-read the things I read and she can never un-write the things she wrote, but it's better that it happened the way it did. I'm glad I found out what I did, and I'm sure she's happier now, however her life has turned out. I know I am. Sometimes things just work themselves out and sometimes records have songs about these events years before they happen to you. It's like I've said for years, everything I do has been done many times before and it's endlessly comforting to hear people sing songs about it. It always makes me feel so much less alone, and that, to me, is the greatest gift that Music can give...
So, there you go. There's a little (more than you wanted) insight into my brain and thoughts on a Saturday night after a few bourbons. Does anyone know if the Brewers won tonight? Fuck, I'm tired... OK, if you say so, self, one more...